As a migrant you are expected to adapt and adjust to the way of life of the people already present there. Yes, I do agree that we should do our best to mingle, but there are some aspects where we clearly differ and just can’t bend in order to adapt. That’s why people from certain similar regions always tend to seek each other out and stick together, failing to mix with the original inhabitants.
There are lots of difficulties associated with interacting, especially when we don’t share the same values and ideas about some issues. For someone like me who likes to keep it real with friends- I tell you my mind regardless of how bitter the truth is – it’s difficult forming a lifetime friendship with a foreigner when we are not on the same page with most issues.
Let’s face facts, there are times when you cannot tell a full British or American what you are really thinking – as it could be considered offensive. I was born and brought up in Nigeria, we don’t usually sugar coat stuff, and we tend to be blunt with our responses. I have actually been told off for using the word ‘fat’ to compare myself with someone else.
So, I am learning how to modify my words before speaking, to soften a criticism even though I won’t consider it as such back home. I’ve learned to be more wordy when drafting emails, instead of jumping straight to the point; to look for a more pleasant way of telling someone else you are saying absolute rubbish.
It has meant I have to keep my tongue in check on a lot of occasions. If I can’t truly say what am thinking to colleagues, how else can I then be expected to interact and form real friends?
You also have to adapt to the concept of Sandwich for lunch, for fear of offending someone else with your spicy smelling Nigerian food. Yes, I used the word smelling, because I have also come to realise that is how a spicy food with odour permeating the four corners of an office is called. How can anyone live on sandwich every day for lunch? Surely, it should be tiring and boring to eat the same meal over and over again, just because you don’t want to offend others with your smelling food. Why should any meal be considered offensive just because it’s not same as yours?
You prefer bland diet; I’m a Nigerian, we prefer our well spiced food. You can eat what you like, so please let me eat mine freely. l try my best to be considerate and keep my spices to a minimum, I stick to the occasional rice, pasta, noodles, and plantain; although, I have heard of people who carried okra soup with era, or beans to the office.
Then to the issue of abundant pets. Everywhere you go you have to look at the walk pavements to ensure you don’t step on animal poo. Yes, people might love and own pets in every country, but I never encountered this depth of love for animals until I stepped into this country. The love for pets can even surpass the love for humans at times. Case in point, the shot gorilla in the press some weeks ago and people criticising the zoo for shooting it.
Should the gorilla be left to maul the child all because of animal love? A friend of mine was asked to donate money to an animal charity one time and her response to the fundraiser was this, “children are dying from hunger all over the world and you are asking me to donate money to an animal, if I save the rare male tiger when he sees me in a forest will that prevent him from attacking me, or will he remember I donated funds to keep him alive and will this make him spare my life”.
I would have given anything to see the expression on the fundraiser’s face when she said this. Someone telling me she is so glad she doesn’t have kids but cats, huh! (My head exploding from everything I want to really say but I just have to shut up, because no amount of speech modification will prevent my words from being considered insensitive)
All I can mutter is ‘really’ with a plastic smile on my face, which I learnt from them by the way. I just can’t wrap my head around that, pets over kids! In all my years of living in Nigeria, I don’t think I ever heard anyone taking time off from work due to a dead pet, or the emotional stress they go through due to their pet’s illness, or the amount spent weekly on special meals for a diabetic pet or treating a sick one (with the current exchange rate the amount can feed a village), but then it happens here. You just have to recognise it as their way of life and offer consolations when you can for the loss of a pet or a listening ear, when all you really want to do is scream till your voice dries out.
What about the fact that you can have a next door neighbour and know zilch about them – even though you have been living side by side for the past 3 years, not even their names. You will also have to adjust to not poking your nose around the neighbour’s house. Best case scenario, you only wave hi to each other every morning on your way to work, make small talk about the weather and that’s where the interaction ends. Socialising is reduced to a minimum especially if you are in a small town with few people from your country.
Those in multicultural cities have it better; at least before walking down 2 or 3 streets you see familiar faces. For some people in smaller towns you can even be the only black person in a church. Don’t understand how people can live this way. It was reported in the news some years back, about a man who was found dead in his home 4 years after he died. Didn’t the neighbours perceive the smell of a decomposing corpse? Whatever happened to family members?
How isolated can you be that 4 years after you lost contact with your family and friends no one thought it strange enough to even call the police? Life can be pretty boring here, but then you just have to get used to it. Watch your solo movies, play games, study for another professional exam, call home frequently to give yourself some sense of socialising. I have actually met Nigerians who, despite having good jobs, packed up one day and went home, because they couldn’t just cope anymore with the isolation.
We are clearly from different worlds and for migrants to fully integrate in this kind of environment, we might have to give up some beliefs we hold so dear and adapt to a way of life that might be considered alien to our culture. The onus is on you really whether adapting is worth the sacrifice.
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